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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: December ::
Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2365  Thursday, 21 December 2000

[1]     From:   Mari. Bonomi <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Dec 2000 13:09:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2348 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Dec 2000 22:24:32 -0800
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 11.2348 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari. Bonomi <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Dec 2000 13:09:52 -0500
Subject: 11.2348 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2348 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Stephanie Hughes writes of Shakespeare:

>He certainly knew
>that there would be very few performances of "Hamlet" in its entirety.
>Why then did he write five hours of play? Because he wanted it read.

Um... how do we know what Shakespeare "certainly knew"?  From what
evidence can we draw our surmises about his intent, understandings,
literary longings, etc?

I yield to no man or woman in my love of Shakespeare, and am probably as
guilty as any of putting into his mind motives that have no substance to
support them.

I think we all need to be careful, in this debate, not to reach beyond
what we have to the clouds of unsubstantiated speculation.

Personally, and with no evidence other than the words we have (however
adulterated by others' editing, etc.), I believe that Shakespeare must
have been a man who loved words, loved playing with words, loved making
words work for him to communicate character and theme as well as plot.
Having been presented with the finest tools and materials, he then
crafted edifices of drama with them.

Did he expect his plays to survive the centuries as "literature"? We
have no way of knowing, nor can we divine his intents.  We have only the
words, glorious words.

And those words as they stand offer both incredibly rich performance
opportunities and remarkable fodder for the mind to chew over as
"literature."

So it's not Lit "vs" Theatrical; it's both.

Mari. Bonomi

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Dec 2000 22:24:32 -0800
Subject: 11.2348 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Fw: SHK 11.2348 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Stephanie Hughes writes:

>I feel that Shakespeare was, first, a man of the book and literature,
>and that he encapsulated his passion in the medium of the day, the one
>that would reach the furthest, those who could not read as well as the
>few who could. Not only did he reach the most in his own time this way,
>but he insured that his work would survive the ups and downs of literary
>taste, for if a play works, if it makes an audience laugh and cry, it
>will last, and so will its language and its message.  He certainly knew
>that there would be very few performances of "Hamlet" in its entirety.
>Why then did he write five hours of play? Because he wanted it read.

While the romance of this idea is very appealing, I don't think it fits
the reality of Shakespeare's life and work. I doubt very much, for
example, that Shakespeare considered posterity at all. Business then, as
now, would be concerned with the present and near future, not the
distant one. Also, it wasn't playwriting that drew audiences; it was
actors. Shakespeare must have been keenly aware of this and wrote parts
to suit the prodigious talents of Burbage, Armin, Lowen, Pope, et al.

The actual publication of his plays might actually have caused an
Elizabethan/Jacobean dramatist more trouble than he would have wanted,
usually through the loss of revenue (rival companies, especially the
"boy" companies, could get their hands on the plays and draw audience
shares away from the Globe in their own productions). The sale of
printed copies was not a very lucrative source of revenue, and
Shakespeare was (as someone recently pointed out on this list) a good
businessman.

As far as the length of _Hamlet_ is concerned, we can't be sure how long
it actually ran in Shakespeare's day, nor even which version of the play
he produced (much ink has been spilled over this controversy). We might
be pretty certain that it ran longer than "two-hours' traffic," but how
much longer is hard to prove, and how fast the lines were spoken may
also be a muddy controversy about which we can never find any
irrefutable proof.

I still hold that the Bard was first and foremost a man of the theatre
(producer/actor/manager, whatever terms you like) who wrote his own
plays because he could and because he knew the actors in his own company
very well. He was also a man of great skill in handling the
politico-business of producing plays for the King of England who
employed him. In a sense, this makes his literary achievement, I think,
even more remarkable -- that fact that it was, at best, a secondary
concern!

I suppose I just opened some more worm cans, so let me have it!

Paul E. Doniger
 

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